Captain Novolin is a brilliant metaphor for the struggle with obesity and diabetes, but also the simple yet unending fight against temptation that we all face as ultimately flawed human beings.
The poorly-rendered mass of flat-looking pixels that is the Captain is your avatar. He is a representation of superheroism, power, persistence, and above all the might to defy the lure of sugary foods. But at the same time, his appearance betrays the falseness of this identity, and undermines his strength. He is nothing but a cardboard cutout, propped up by his own illusory sense of potency and ability. Our self-perceptions, similarly, are blocky, primitive, poorly rendered versions of ourselves, crude and pixellated little superheroes that mask our frail, organic bodies and our three-dimensional failure – that mask our real selves from our own minds.
At every step of the way, your mission is guided by authority figures, doctors in white coats with fixed, permanent smiles and admonishments and advice. Their words, though appropriate medical advice to you the player, are empty and meaningless for Captain Novolin. They cannot help him in the real fight against his foes – sloth, indolence and indulgence. They can only spout hollow aphorisms for the “real world” as he struggles and dies in the gutter of this brightly-coloured city, overrun by invaders. Authority is of no use in the personal struggle; their “real world” is not your reality.
And the foes; the doughnuts, the candy bars, the cookies. You pass apples and bananas and other healthy foods in your travels, which are static and easy to pick up, but they soon slip from your memory and you are unsure as to their use. But the tasty, evil creatures leap towards you, thrumming with purpose and violence. You know they are bad; in this reality, as in any game, that which moves and is not you is bad. And you can see their patterns. You can see how they move. You can see where they’ll be. You can avoid that doughnut; you can leap over it; you can abstain from that third cookie, or eat that cereal with no sugar, or drink Diet Coke instead of regular today.
But you can’t.
Because these enemies immediately change their pattern, leaping upwards or rushing forwards when you least expect it and can least defend yourself. You are seized by desire, unable to say no.
The next foe appears, and you think you will destroy it utterly by leaping atop it as Mario would. But this doesn’t work either! You are smitten again. No diet works; you can’t stick to the exercise schedule. You can’t maintain your blood sugar because there is too much that is delicious. Little do you know that when the enemy is beneath you, when you have finally managed to overmatch its sudden aggression, you must press down to stomp on it. Only then will you triumph…for a time. Because you will never really win. The candy bars are too fast, the cookies leap too high, and there are not enough tiny little Captain Novolin heads in the upper right corner to sustain you to the end of your travels.
You can never really win.